Excerpt 4 - Sacrifice at Nodoroc:
From “The Early History of Jackson County, Georgia”, the writings of the Late Gustavus James Nash Wilson, embracing some of the Early History of Jackson County, Edited and Published by William Ellis White, 1914
“It burns! It burns!” To the party of men and women, who, led by Umausauga, left Fort Strong on the following morning, these words as used on the previous day by their leader, were a profound mystery. The anxious company consisted of Mr. And Mrs. Josiah Strong, Mr. And Mrs. Leon Shore, Helen Draper, Abel Trent, and Edward Belknap. This, with the dogs, left a comparatively strong force at Talasee, which was always well guarded night and day. They went by the way of Calamit, and there they left the Trail and turning to the right, rode through the dense forest to some point on the high plain upon which Chapel church now stands. There they halted, and looking to the north the leader pointed out a long, slender column of smoke which seemed to pierce the region of the clouds. The sun shone brightly and there was not a passing zephyr to break the reigning stillness, while slowly, silently, solemnly the curling, twisting, airy wreaths of intensely black smoke, marked the exact location of the mysterious Nodoroc, the Indian's place of torment. Doubtless it was the first view of an Anglo-Saxon eye, and very impressive. Said Mr. Strong in an effort to describe the scene:
“I am utterly unable to describe the scene or to express in words the feelings it produces. When I take into consideration the associations connected with it and with the other more awful one described in the word of God I am so overcome with the comparison suggested that I can think only of St. John's words in Revelation – 'And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever.'”
The sky above, the air and the woods around, and the faces of the company, all seemed to be shrouded in a funeral pall. The solemn spell was not broken when the leader again pointed to the column of smoke and all moved forward. Having gone a short distance they entered a valley in which all the animals in the country seemed to have collected.
Having never seen men and women on horseback before, and perhaps thinking the horses and their riders were one and the same, they scampered off in every direction as if never before so badly scared. Turning slightly from the little valley to the west, the party passed over a narrow plain and descended a gentle slope until they could see the column of smoke forming on the surface of what appeared to be a lake of bluish water. Going a little nearer it was found that not a sprig of vegetation of any kind grew near it and that the timber growing in the vicinity was badly dwarfed. A closer inspection revealed the astonishing fact that the lake was not water, but a body of from three to five acres of smoking, bubbling, bluish mud of about the consistency of molasses, and whose surface ranged from two to three fee below the surrounding solid land. The mud near the banks was slightly in motion, but its action gradually increased towards the center until about half and acre had the appearance if a moderately boiling pot of water. The movement of the smoke which arose from the bubbles was sluggish, and uniting in funnel-shaped form a few feet above the surface, formed the imposing column seen from the distant plain. It was perhaps five feet in diameter at the base, and tapering at the height of at least one-fourth of a mile, spread out like the branches of a tree. Now and then a flickering, bluish blaze, like a flame from a smoldering fire, played for a moment over various parts of the boiling area. This made the smoke more dense than when there was no flame, and the boiling was less violent. It was said by those who had witnessed this uncommon phenomenon on a dark night, that it produced such horrid feelings as to cause some people to faint and made others so sick that they had to be led away. These emotions were probably produced by the unpleasant stench that arose from the lake when the flames were not flickering over it. The fire fed on the ascending gas that was thrown up by the bubbles and thus destroyed the offensive odor.
There, amid the dismal solitudes of a primeval forest, where the white man never trod before, unknown races of people, antedating the red man, may have stood and wondered over the mysteries of Nodoroc just as did the pioneer company from Talasee; for the column of smoke, the lake of boiling mud, and the flames of fire that played over it must have been indescribably grand and awfully suggestive. Who knows that the place did not mark one of the last vestiges of primeval time when “the earth was with form, and void, and darkness moved on the face of the deep.”
It was evident that work of which even the red man knew nothing had been carried on at this curious place during the long gone ages of the past. At the western end of the hot mus lake, and fifty steps from its margin, there was a triangular stone house whose sides were equal, twelve feet long and eight feet high. The stones of which it was built were roughly dressed, but well enough for them to fit closely and remain in place steadily. They were of various dimensions, the largest being heavy enough, perhaps, to require two men to carry them. In the east wall, facing the lake, there was an opening nearly five feet high and thirty-two inches wide, the sides of which were better dressed than any other part of the structure. The stone immediately above this opening or door jutted out from the wall a little more than two feet as if intended for an awning; but a close inspection showed that it had been used for some sort of ceremonial purposes. The upper side and that part of the wall facing it plainly indicated the long-continued action of the fire, showing like the more elaborate and artistic altars at Yamacutah or Tumbling Shoals the observance of such sacrificial rites as are attributed to the prehistoric races of this country.
The floor of this equilateral triangle was of the same material as the walls, and in the west corner was a solid, hewn stone altar having three steps, on each of which were the same signs of fire as shown on the projecting stone over the door. Both were probably used in conjunction for the same purpose. In 1837 Gov. George R. Gilmer purchased this altar, (quite a number of the stones are still in the yard; but many hagve been carried away by curio seekers. Dr. W. H. Reynolds occupies the old home at present, 1914. – Ed.) and in the spring of 1900, it was still where Mr. Gilmer placed it in the front yard of his residence in Lexington, Georgia.
The indications were that the triangle had been covered, but no evidence of the material used has survived the rush of the sweeping years that have come and gone since it first began to decay.
The walls were covered with a greenish gray moss which must have been the growth of ages. Seemingly one layer, or the growth of a long series of years, had died, and another had grown upon that, and another and another, until the whole bed was, in some places, from six to eight inches deep. A few badly dwarfed oak and chestnut bushes were growing in the moss, and their roots had forced themselves between the stones.
All present were of a cheerful disposition, but now as as they realized that Umausauga's declaration, “It burns! It burns,” was really true; that a dry piece of timber thrown into the boiling mud was instantly burned into ashes; that a heavy rain which had just fallen evaporated as fast as it fell; and that the only effect was to increase the volume of smoke, the entire party became silent and thoughtful. Even Helen Draper failed to shout, “Hurrah for success,” and settled down to serious meditation. When at last aroused she turned to Mrs. Shore and said, “My dear Ruth, I am about ready to believe that we have fallen into the hands of Aladdin and his lamp and that we have been transported to the shores of the Dead Sea. Have you seen any apples of Sodom growing about here?” “No, child, no,” answered Ruth, with a faint smile, “but talking about apples makes me hungry. What do you all say?”
It was nearly noon, and having brought an ample supply of provisions with them, all joined in a hearty dinner at some distance from the lake. “What is that?” asked Ruth, as she munched a piece of broiled fish and sniffed the air. “The old Wog is getting his breath,” replied Josiah Strong, “as he always does just at noon. Father Umausauga warned me of this, but I had forgotten to mention it.”
A brisk breeze had set in from the southwest, the leaves fluttered, the tree-tops waved back and forth, the column of smoke dissolved, and in swirling eddies went chasing each other over the ground and through the air, and the stench from the lake became almost intolerable. The breeze continued for a short time only, just long enough, the Indians believed, for the monster that inhabited it to get a good breath. It was afterwards found that this strange phenomenon occurred at time of full moon only. When the wind had subsided Umausauga, by request, gave the following account of Nodoroc, repeating a few things that he had formerly mentioned to Mr. Strong:
“To the mind of the Creek Indian Nodoroc means about the same as hell does to the white man, and Wog corresponds to devil, or Satan. For the meaning and application of these names I am indebted to my darling Banna, and I have full faith in all that she says. I was myself once so much afraid of the Wog-devil that I sold the land on which he mostly traveled, and only a few of my race will live on it. The Creeks believe that all bad spirits are sent here and when their bodies die and sometimes they die here and the Wog smooths over the hole they make when entering the mud by sweeping his ugly tail from side to side.
“When one of you told Talitchlechee that you kept men in a hole and took the out as you needed them, he doubtless thought that Nodoroc was meant; and I am of the opinion that that thought of the old chief had as much to do in calming down his fiery spirit as the mortal dread that he and all his warriors have of your keen cracking rifles.
“A long time ago the place was hotter than it is now. Even when I was a boy you could sometimes see solid sheets of flame shooting over the surface like lightning in a southern storm-cloud; and the boiling mud would pop and crack like a burning canebrake. All this made people, and its present condition still makes some people believe, that the Wog was mad because enough bad spirits were not sent to him. This belief caused innocent victims to be thrown into the horrid place to satisfy revengeful and overbearing natures and to keep the Wog from visiting them at night.
“But all the victims that have suffered here were not innocent. Many years ago a woman who lived at Jasacathor killed and ate one of her own children. A hunting party made the discovery and reported the matter to Urocasca, the Head Man at the time. Finding the report to be true he ordered her to be thrown head foremost into the hottest part of Nodoroc. The old Wog was said to turn over when she struck the mud, and sweeping his tail back and forth over the hole she made, the wretch, though often heard, was never seen again.
“Many dark nights she has run over these hills squalling and screaming like a demon while a troop of children followed close behind here shouting and clapping their hands as if greatly enjoying her misery. Her name was Fenceruga, and since that time it has only been used to scare children.
“All prisoners taken in war and those who are condemned to death for crime are thrown into Nodoroc by men called Honoras. At the battle of Rodoata the Creeks captured nine prisoners. They were brought here and thrown into the boiling mud. It was a difficult matter to find a man who was willing to be an Honora, and though not one myself, I saw the prisoners thrown in just where there was a blue blaze of fire playing around them. They did not seem to care for anything until the flames touched them. Then all gave the Cherokee scream of lament. Owocowah! Owocowah! I did not care for it then, but O it seems so terrible, terrible now.
“I never had a wife though once I dearly loved a beautiful girl, and I love her memory still. She was as dear to me as life itself. Yes! Yes! She was much dearer than my life. Her name was Nere Nara. She lived at Snodon where Modin now lives. She was Nyrulyn's sister; with soft and lovely eyes like those of the red deer. Like the full round moon in all its glory, her face with dimpled chin was no akin to earth and seemed to rise and set with the morning and the evening stars. Glad and musical was her laugh as the water ripples over the rocks at Talasee, and her cheeks were as lovely as dewdrops in the morning sunshine. As Nyrulyn's hair is long and glossy so was Nere Nara's, though a little, just a little, wavy – not so much as Banna's is now. She was as fleet on foot as Mera, and as bright as Mera, too. But Nere Nara is gone, now – gone to live beyond the stars in the Happy Hunting Grounds of her fathers – gone to the white man's Heaven where, Ouska! Chouska! Loak (Glory to God!) I will meet her again sometime – meet my lost Nere Nara beyond the stars! Ouska! Chouska! Loak!
“I was to carry my lost loved one to Adabor, the wigwam on the hill, at time of the next round moon, but Watleskew, a Choctaw warrior came to Snodon and fell in love with Sunrise – Nere Nara means Sunrise. He talked love to her for a long time. She would not talk love to him. That made him mad. He buried his tomahawk in her head. She died on the very spot where Banna gave herself away to Mr. Strong. Her murderer fled towards the north. I had the wings of a bird to run, and the eye of an eagle to follow his tracks. I ran in front, Etohaitee and Notha Neva, her brother whom you know, kept my tracks hot with their own feet. We came up with him at Thomocoggin, [Jefferson]. Three tomahawks were instantly buried in his carrion body, two in his head and one in his heart, which I, with my own hand, tore from his breast and gave to a hungry wolf that was prowling around the place. We brought the carrion body here. We ought to have brought him alive; but the cries of vengeance called for haste and they were met with haste. With Modin to help us we threw the carrion far into the boiling, smoking lake just where the dull, bluish flames were reaching out, as if for other victims, like lightning in the angry storm cloud. I gloried in the deed then. I feel differently about it now. That was the only dead body ever thrown into Nodoroc. Other criminals that died away from here, if buried at all, lie on the surrounding hill. Look, you can see many graves. It is the Home of Accursed.
“We buried Nere Nara just where she died. There my heart is buried with here. There, too, I want my body to be buried at her side. Will any of my white friends who may live longer than I do promise to bury me there?”
The speaker paused and looked upon those around him imploringly. Instantly all present pledged themselves to comply with his request, and to procure the assistance of every white man and woman in the country if necessary. A faint smile played over his features, he chased the thickly falling tears from his eyes and buried his face in the palms of his ponderous hands. As on former occasions, Banna went and sat at his side. She tenderly chased his massive brow with her hands, and leaning her head upon his shoulder, wept like a stricken child.
By and by he looked up and said: “Excuse me! This is not my weakness, but my strength to bear all things for Nere Nara. When she came into my life the sunshine turned into gold, the moonbeams into silver, and the stars into pearls of the ocean, the great blue ocean above, where God unfurls his banner and bids us march on to victory beneath it, Ouska! Chouska! Loak
“But,” continued the Indian after a long pause, “when Sunrise was taken away all the glories of earth turned black as the smoke of Nodoroc. I could not see the blooming flowers, hear the singing birds or laughing water. As I thought on these things my blood began to boil as boil the central fires of the white man's hell and of the red man's together. I swore vengeance against the whole Choctaw tribe. I organized a war party of more than two hundred followers. When almost ready to start on my mission of vengeance the Wog began to appear occasionally.
“Some of you have seen him with his thrashing tail, his great red eyes, his grinning lips and forked tongue. At first he scared some of the natives to death, and it was reported all over the country that he snatched dead bodies out of their graves and ate them. This made me uneasy about the precious body of my lost Sunrise who had so suddenly and unexpectedly set in gloom to rise no more. To protect here from the abominable creature I built the great rock pillar which you all well know as Nere Nara over her grave at Snodon.
“Its foundation is deep in the ground to prevent the beast from scratching under, and its top is high so as to enable men who watched the grave to protect themselves. Every night for many moons I saw on top of that dreary pile of rocks to watch for the coming of the monster. But it was a work of love, and therefore pleasant. Some of my friends were always on watch with me, and one of us was always wide-awake. One time only the dreadful thing came in sight; but after scaring Hoochleohoopah, who lived where Modin now lives, away from the country, passed on without doing any other mischief.
“By and by, when the lovely form of Nere Nara had returned to what Banna calls her mother earth, the watch was discontinued; but though the place is black and dreary, I still continue to go there frequently. Sometimes Banna went with me, and sometimes she went alone. It was on one of these lonely visits that she found the lock of hair that grew on Mr. Strong's head.
“Vengeance against the Choctaws still ran swiftly in every drop of my blood; but another bright light, almost too bright for earth, came bounding into my life. I found a little daughter on the battlefield of Arharra. I carried her home and nursed her with my own hands. All too soon she grew to be a lovely woman – more lovely to me than the rising sun – more brilliant to me than the evening star, and has, in turn, nursed me with her own hands. The Great Spirit has placed her in a happy home. There the glorious light of the white man's heaven fell upon her, and there the blood of a crucified Redeemer made her who was always white, still whiter than snow. I once believed all these things about Nodoroc. I do not believe them now. Banna talked [prayed] to the true God for me. Vengeance is all gone now. I leave that to the God she serves – to her God and to my God. Ouska! Chouska! Loak Soul answers soul that Banna Mar de Vedo Strong is right, and God is true. Umausauga is done!”
The foregoing is a free translation of Umausauga's narrative.
No speaker ever had a more attentive audience, nor was any ever more sincere in his final conclusions. Having finished his narrative he slowly walked far up the hill, and facing to the east, reclined upon the ground. Lighting his favorite corn-cob pipe he began to smoke and apparently fell into a deep meditation. His companions were walking about in various directions thinking of the horrid scenes connected with the place. Perhaps the fate of Fenceruga and Watleskew was most vivid in their minds; but if such instances were only a small part of what one man knew of Nodoroc, what would be the sum total of all the horrors witnessed at that dreadful place?
While the scattered company was silently thinking over the strange customs of savage life and trying to compare it with the light of a Gospel day, Umausauga arose to his feet quickly, and placing his hand over his mouth to denote silence, hastily joined his companions near the triangle.
“Silence! Silence!” he said as he seated himself near Mr. And Mrs. Strong. “There is no danger if you don't interfere, and keep a still tongue.”
As a matter of habit more than otherwise, every rifle in the company “clicked” at the word danger, and Mr. Strong asked anxiously: “What have you discovered, father?” “The Honoras are coming,” was the answer, as the Indian pointed across the lake to the south and continued: “They have gotten some poor wretch for the old Wog. I saw them stop and tie his hands together. There are six Honoras, and I judge from fifteen to twenty warriors. It is not likely that the latter will come any nearer if –“
While the Indian was speaking six large men, dressed in skins and decorated with feathers came in view from the direction indicated. They were leading a medium-sized man whose steps were bold and firm, and looking straight before him, seemed to advance without a tremor. Arriving at the bank the Honoras took hold of him, three on each side, and swinging him back and forth several times, threw him head foremost into the hot cauldron of slimy mud. The body quickly disappeared below the surface, but nothing was seen of the Wog or of its trowel-like tail by the silent and almost breathless spectators.
With a slow and measure tread, in single file and stooping posture, the Honoras joined their comrades in the distance, and going south, soon disappeared.”